2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
There is a segment of the American churchgoing public that recoils in horror when the subject of money emanates from the pulpit.
I used to take that personally – until I realized that those people also would be uncomfortable with Jesus. His recorded words mention
money more than any other subject except love. I figure I’m in pretty good company.
What God has shown me lately, however, isn’t the importance of giving for its own sake, but as a means for Him to bless His people the
way He wants to. In much the same way His justice required the death of Jesus on the cross to reconcile a sinful people to
His standards of righteousness, God wants
to bless us. But He can’t do so unless we are “all in” with Him – and our giving is an
important way, perhaps the most important
way, we demonstrate that we desire covenant with Him.
The standard of giving for Christians is something I was taught as a boy and teach to my congregations today – the tithe, 10 percent
of one’s gross income, is to be returned to God for the financing of his Kingdom. Further, we are to give our first fruits – the
first portion of our income – rather than our leftovers. Some in the church reject the biblical tithe as the Old Testament standard,
conveniently ignoring the fact that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly,
I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the
kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless
your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 5:17-20, ESV
Jesus’s proclamations didn’t change the law. Rather, He sought to return to the original spirit of the law, which had been perverted
by the religious elites of His day. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, he goes beyond the Ten Commandments in communicating His
expectations for human behavior. Why, without a shred of biblical evidence, would we believe that in the area of finances, he did
the opposite? Perhaps it helps to salve our guilt when the offering container comes by.
If you are a biblical tither, you are in unusual company in the Church. George Barna, who has made a career and ministry out of
surveying Christians and reporting the results in ways that never fail to startle me,
wrote in April 2013
that for a solid decade, just 12 percent of
born-again Christians gave a tithe of their income to churches and non-profit organizations. Even this measurement fudges a bit
on the definition of tithe, in my opinion; Malachi 3:10 commands us to “bring all the tithe into the storehouse,” not into a number
of storehouses of the giver’s choice.
But for the sake of argument, let’s accept Barna’s 12 percent figure as accurate. Now, let’s realize the sobering truth: fewer than
one out of every eight born-again Christians understand and practice
what the Bible says about giving!
There are probably a number of reasons for that. I’m sure there are many pastors who are intimidated into keeping silent about
God’s commands of stewardship (a problem I conquered a long time ago). It’s likely that others hear the truth and choose not to
Still others, it’s safe to say, hear the truth and are want to trust God with their finances, but hold back out of fear. These are
the folks I become concerned for, because they miss out on the opportunity to really exercise their faith – to attempt things that
are impossible for man, but possible for God.
I’m fortunate to know many people who have committed to a life of radical obedience to God – not only in the area of finances, but
also in all other aspects of their lives (I was fortunate to have parents who modeled that lifestyle). Those people have two
things in common: they are blessed in ways that most people never experience, and they bless others in the ways we all would like
to do. That’s not a coincidence. You can’t be blessed unless you’re obedient.
What would the Church be like if it were dominated by people who grasped the truth that obedience is inextricably entwined with
blessing? Not just one out of every eight people on the pew, but just about everyone! Certainly you wouldn’t hear congregations
say “we don’t have the money to do that” when opportunities presented themselves to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister
to the sick and visit the incarcerated. And you’d see miracles coming out of local congregations almost as a matter of routine.
Because when individuals and churches are obedient to give God their first fruits instead of their leftovers, He becomes their
partner in whatever they attempt.